Why Some Women Get A Period Flu & How To Manage It, From MDs

Why Some Women Get A Period Flu & How To Manage It, From MDs
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Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms affect 95% of all women of reproductive age. Symptoms of PMS can include nausea, aches, hot flashes, and fatigue—many of which mirror symptoms of the flu. Because of these similarities, many women have described the effects as "period flu." 

Though period flu is not a medical condition and can't be diagnosed, the symptoms are very real for many women. To better understand what causes period flu and how to treat it, mbg spoke with integrative physicians and OB/GYNs. 

Symptoms of period flu. 

Period flu, though not an official medical condition, may be a side effect of PMS. Symptoms can include fatigue, achiness, and increased body temperature, says OB/GYN and integrative women's health expert Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, M.D. Other PMS symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, and even vomiting, according to one small study. 

While these pre-period symptoms are similar to those of influenza, period flu is distinguished by its cyclical nature. "Period flu symptoms can occur between ovulation and the beginning of your period," integrative medicine doctor Alejandra Carrasco, M.D., tells mbg. And the symptoms will generally occur on a monthly basis. 

To help rule out a viral flu, Gilberg-Lenz recommends asking yourself these questions: 

  1. Are my symptoms regularly occurring in the week or two before my menstrual flow? 
  2. Do I have a high-risk exposure to influenza?
  3. Do I have an actual demonstrated fever of 100.4 degrees or more over several hours or days? 

If you answer yes to the first question, it's not the flu. "We don't get viral infections every three to four weeks," she says. If you answer yes to the last two, though, you're probably dealing with a viral flu.

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What causes period flu?

There's no evidence to prove why some women experience more severe symptoms of PMS, like period flu, while others don"t. However, Gilberg-Lenz says period flu could be triggered by an increased sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations or an increased inflammatory response during the menstrual cycle. 

Additionally, specific inflammatory hormones (called prostaglandins), may enhance flu-like symptoms in some women. When the endometrial cells lining the uterus begin to shed, these hormones are released. During the process, "Some of these prostaglandins can enter the bloodstream," Carrasco says, "causing headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, and diarrhea."

Should you be concerned about period flu?

Generally, the symptoms of period flu will subside when menstruation starts, or a few days into the period. If the issues persist or are disruptive to daily life, it may be worth reaching out to a primary care physician or an OB/GYN. "It's always better to be safe than sorry," Carrasco says. 

Examples of persisting issues include a lasting fever over 101 degrees, dehydration caused by diarrhea or vomiting, or symptoms that continue to occur well into or after your period. 

According to osteopathic OB/GYN Anna Cabeca, D.O., the period flu may also be pointing toward other underlying inflammatory conditions. Consulting a physician to rule out these potential causes may be helpful. "We need to really look at the hormone balance and inflammatory factors over time and what put us at risk for inflammatory diseases in general," she says.

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How to treat period flu. 

Since period flu is not a medical diagnosis, there's no true treatment. However, there are ways to help manage the symptoms.

One of the best ways to deal with period flu, according to Gilberg-Lenz, is with supportive care, such as resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and managing inflammation.

To help manage inflammation, Cabeca suggests eliminating or reducing inflammatory foods and incorporating antioxidants into the diet.

Adding supplements to support the body's natural anti-inflammatory responses could also help. "Turmeric, resveratrol, and fish oil are some of my favorite natural ways to combat the inflammatory effects of prostaglandins," Carrasco says. Brands like Solgar have some great supplement options in each of these categories. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may also be helpful. 

Women who have ruled out underlying autoimmune or other health conditions may benefit from seeing a trained women's health specialist, Gilberg-Lenz says. These professionals may help them incorporate and commit to sustainable lifestyle and dietary changes.

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